Saturday 17 March 2018

Splendid Isolation

Justin McCarthy's Limerick tenure is tumbling towards a total blackout

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Justin McCarthy has succeeded where his namesake and former Cork team-mate Gerald has failed before.

Not long into the last decade, Justin finished in one year with Waterford what Gerald had been attempting in five. He won a Munster title. The fruits of Gerald's labour, or just a coach operating at a different level who arrived in the right place with perfect timing?

Now Justin is reaching for success again where Gerald has failed before, trying to ride out the storm that has been whipped up by the absence of a group of players who no longer have faith in his ability as their hurling manager or coach. It's only heading one direction. Again.


Why Justin can't see it, why those officers in the the Limerick County Board who continue to stand firm can't see it, why the 70 clubs who armed him with sufficient confidence to carry on eight days before Christmas can't see it, well only they can answer.

But from a distance, this one is as easy to read as Cork was 12 months ago. Already they are getting shifty about what's ahead in Croke Park, and who can blame them? They've been down this road before.

So here's the drill. If it goes beyond tomorrow night's meeting, Limerick will survive the Waterford Crystal league. Some will even convince themselves that there is optimism, a future on the horizon, a resolve to face down players.

They'll talk of the enthusiasm of those who want to play, of making a stand for the greater good, of the sanctity of Board decisions. But it could be in two home matches within six days of each other, against Galway and Cork, where reality will bite. Poor crowds, apathy, potentially heavy beatings.

Maybe Galway will travel to Limerick in the same mode that they travelled to Cork in similar circumstances last year; without their Portumna players and lacking real bite. But such respite won't carry over to the Cork game. By the time they travel to Waterford on Sunday March 14, Limerick will have dipped from the low altitude they have been flying at into crash mode.

Maybe the current regime will be allowed to limp on longer. Maybe a sporting public that has gorged sufficiently on the success of the Munster rugby team with such a local flavour just won't care enough to enforce change as the Cork public did 12 months ago when their team were clearly heading down a dead end. But regardless of the level of apathy, results in these situations determine everything, not resolve to ensure the Limerick County Board remains authoritarian and sacrosanct in decision-making matters.

There are, of course, fundamental differences between Cork and Limerick. For a start, there are scant medals on the chests of any of the 12 players who have walked in protest at the way so many of their colleagues were treated. There are All-Ireland U-21 medals hanging from the necks of some, but they have long since lost their shine.

And they are coming off the back of an embarrassing 24-point defeat by Tipperary in an All-Ireland semi-final. At any level, no matter how poor the environment to prepare, such a heavy beating isn't and wasn't acceptable. Players have their own personal honour.

That result last August demanded change. Justin was lucky to survive in the first instance and, being just as culpable, the players had no real stomach to force the issue of management despite their misgivings. There had been far too much change at the top anyway in recent years, with the last decade alone throwing up seven different managers.

But the manner of Justin's purge; the inference of a lack of discipline in the only public comments he has made in the last three months which clearly shine a light on those he culled; and the absence of communication between manager and those let go, has raised all the other issues that the 2009 squad opted to remain silent on.

Now it's much more than a communication problem.

The Limerick players had been prepared to give Justin some width early on. But when Damien Reale asked the question about the lack of communication to those affected by the decision, he was asked by Justin if he'd ever heard of the old adage, 'you're not your brother's keeper'.

The County Board chairman Liam Lenihan could publicly apologise for this lack of communication, but the manager didn't feel the need to when the matter arose. The exodus after that was a drip more than a flow with the last four finally bailing out on New Year's Eve.

Unlike Cork, there is no command structure to organise potential resistance -- "cells" as Teddy McCarthy referred to them in Cork last year.

The Limerick players have not gone out en masse. They have discussed it among themselves and have each come to personal decisions. There is no coercion to keep their replacements away, they are happy to see players filling green jerseys. It's just not for them.

The most striking image in the last Cork dispute was the picture of established players warming up in freezing conditions one Saturday morning as they set about their training pathway. Limerick have not opted to form an alternative squad.

Efforts by the Limerick County Board to resolve this have failed miserably. Privately, some might have hoped that the clubs would have ended this on December 17. But Justin survived. Another vote might not carry him.

A body of opinion suggests that some players will eventually relent and return, but that's not going to happen. It's broken and they have no intention of fixing it while Justin remains.


Three former managers, admittedly a trio who would have no love of their own Board, are all adamant that the future is not served best by the current regime remaining in place.

Eamonn Cregan, Richie Bennis and Tom Ryan have all been critical of McCarthy's reign. Their views probably reflect those of an uncaring public.

Whether Justin was right or wrong in what he did and how he went about it is not the point any more. With a full complement of players, Limerick will struggle to remain in Division 1 of the League. With not one of the 2009 starting team, they are doomed.

"We can sit in the room with the lights off, but I can tell you we will be turning them on in Limerick," Justin boldly declared last October as he surveyed the wiring of the 2009 squad he had taken apart.

Sadly there's been a short circuit, a power failure that the resident engineer won't be able to fix. Soon the house will be on fire.

Irish Independent

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